Orthography in Linguistics
What Is Orthography?
Orthography is the convention used for writing a language; this is not, however, the same as spelling. Different cultures have developed various systems for recording their languages, ranging from logograms, symbols representing words or phrases, to alphabets. Some languages have never been recorded at all, while others are written in multiple orthographies. Written language inevitably differs from the spoken language it intends to represent. Aspects of dialect and intonation can be lost in the written form of a language.
The term orthography originates from the Greek orthographia, meaning "proper writing." The term took on something close to its current meaning, "branch of language study which treats of the nature and properties of letters," c. 1580s. Today, the term is used to describe all writing systems, including those that do not use letters. Review the following example sentences with the term orthography:
- Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs represent a system of orthography.
- Modern English orthography includes an alphabet and punctuation marks.
- What are the pros and cons of our system of orthography?
Logographic orthography describes a system of writing which contains logograms, symbols representing words or phrases (morphemes), rather than individual syllables or sounds. Logographic orthography predates the development of alphabets. Writing systems with logographic features include:
- Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs
- Chinese characters
Logographic systems of writing can contain elements of phonemic representation. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and Chinese characters have syllabic features.
Syllabic orthography describes a system of writing which contains symbols representing syllables. Writings systems with syllabic features include:
- Linear B, Mycenean scripting dating from around 1400 a.d.
Alphabetic orthography describes a system of writing containing symbols representing individual sounds. Writing systems with alphabets include:
- The Greek alphabet
- The Roman alphabet
- The Arabic alphabet
Some alphabets, such as the Semitic alphabets, are consonantal writing systems because they contain symbols for consonants but not vowels. Alphabets that have symbols for both vowels and consonants are called true alphabets.
Origins of Orthography
Although spoken language is widely believed to be a universal human competence, writing systems are relatively new. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Western writing systems are generally traced back to Sumerian orthography, developed in the 4th millennium BCE, called cuneiform. It does not seem to be the case, however, that Asian orthographies have the same source. Cuneiform, which was syllabic and logographic, eventually led to the development of alphabets, such as the Semitic alphabet, Greek alphabet, and Latin alphabet, which served as the basis for English orthography.
Even today, English orthography is not globally standardized. For example, British English orthographic practices favor the spelling colour whereas American English practices prefer color. Some countries have an official organization for standardizing orthography, such as the Academie Francaise in France, but no single organization exists for English. However, general practices in mass media and dictionaries do provide for a good deal of standardization. Some dictionaries, such as Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1755, is considered historical importance in standardizing English orthography.
Linguistic Elements of Orthography
In linguistics, several terms about orthography have been developed to describe types of writing systems, their elements, and general concepts related to the representation of meaning and sound through writing. Here is a closer look at a few of these terms.
Punctuation, the use of spacing and small marks called punctuation marks, is a feature used in many orthographic systems to divide the text into sections, such as sentences and clauses, as well as to aid interpretation. Notice how the interpretation of and intonation when pronouncing the following sentences changes on account of the punctuation:
- You love green pea soup.
- You love green pea soup!
- You love green pea soup?
Grapheme, Phoneme, and Diagraph
A phoneme is a unit of speech to distinguish one word from another. There is a distinction between the phonemes /b/ and /p/, differentiating between the words bad and pad. A phoneme does not correspond to exactly one sound. The perception of more than one sound can be as a single phoneme; these sounds are called allophones. Phonology is the branch of linguistics that studies the organization of sounds in language.
A grapheme is a writing character considered a single unit but may have different variants. For example, grapheme <B> contains the variants b and B.
A diagraph is a pair of characters representing a single phoneme. In English, the pair of letters "ng" represent a single phoneme in the word going.
Linguistic Concepts of Orthography
Finally, let's review a few more orthographic concepts which are related to the study of linguistics.
The alphabetic principle states that the letters and combinations of letters are related to a language's speech sounds predictably and systematically. Some languages, such as Spanish, have a writing system and spelling conventions with a high degree of consistency concerning the spoken language. English and French, however, have more discrepancies between sounds and symbols. Consider the following examples in which the orthography of English does not adhere to a simple one symbol to one sound relationship:
- the letters i, y, and e all sound like /i/in the words, we, thirty, tortellini
- the letter b is not pronounced in the word lamb
- the difference in the pronunciation of the letter c in car and ace
Conversely, orthographic depth describes the degree to which an alphabetic orthography diverges from a simple sound-symbol relationship. The more an alphabet deviates from the alphabetic principle, the "deeper" it is, and the harder it is to predict the pronunciation of a written word based on its spelling.
A defective orthography is an orthography that does not represent all the phonemic differences of a language. Defectiveness can arise for several reasons. Some causes of defectiveness in alphabets include:
- Historical spellings, which do not reflect changes in pronunciation over time
- Lack of symbols for vowels, or lack of distinctions for vowel length or tone
Orthography is the set of conventions used to write a language. Orthographies can be categorized as logographic, syllabic, and alphabetic. Alphabetic orthographies can be further divided into consonantal alphabets and true alphabets, symbols for consonant and vowel sounds. The Western orthographic tradition has its roots in the ancient logographic system Cuneiform.
Punctuation, the use of spacing and punctuation marks in an orthographic system. There is a differentiation between graphemes, units of writing such as the letter <B> and its variations b and B, and phonemes, units of speech used to distinguish words. A diagraph is a combination of two letters corresponding to a single phoneme, such as ng in the word going.
Three terms are related to the degree of consistency with which an alphabet represents the sounds of a language: the alphabetic principle, orthographic depth, and defective orthography. The alphabetic principle states that letters and combinations of letters systematically and consistently represent the sounds of a language. Orthographic depth describes the extent to which a language deviates from a simple sound to symbol relationship. Defective orthography is when an orthographic system does not represent all the phonemes of a language.
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What is the difference between orthography and spelling?
Orthography is a broader subject than spelling because it looks at all aspects of systems used to record language in writing; this includes looking at systems that don't have an alphabet but use logograms and syllabaries. Orthography is also concerned with the relationship between what is written and what is spoken and conventions of punctuation.
What is an example of orthography?
Orthography can be used to describe any system of writing, whether it be the alphabet we use to write English or ancient writing systems such as Egyptian hieroglyphs.
What is the difference between phonology and orthography?
Whereas orthography is concerned with how humans record language in writing, phonology is concerned with the way humans organize language into speech.
What is the meaning of orthography?
Orthography is used to describe the writing systems which humans use to record their spoken languages. These can be logographic, syllabic, or alphabetic systems.
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